Avera quits, city begins search for new city manager

Hollister City Manager Bill Avera is resigning after five years on the job, less than a year after he signed a three-year contract.

The former city development services director surprised the city council with his retirement decision in a January closed session. Then on Feb. 19, he passed along his resignation letter during a routine staff report. The council decided March 25 how a successor will be named.

Avera’s contract was to expire in 2021. He told the Free Lance on March 26 that there was no one factor that led him to retire, saying he wanted time to start a second career outside of city government.

“I’m not necessarily money driven,” said Avera. “I wanna be happy and do what I wanna do.”

At the Feb. 19 meeting Avera told the council formally that he planned to step down Nov. 15, 2019. This week, the council agreed to hire a professional headhunting firm to find a new city manager.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez proposed finding an interim city manager who would assume the duties for six months and assess the city’s departments before installing someone to the position permanently. District 1 Council member Carol Lenoir was vehemently opposed, and said Avera’s long notice gave the council ample time to find a permanent replacement. Because of the lack of consensus on this issue, the council will decide in coming weeks whether or not to look for a permanent or interim replacement.

When he was first hired as city manager in March 2014, Avera the other candidates for the position were recruited using a third party agency. He also served as an interim city manager for nine months before being given a permanent contract.

“I gave [nine months’] notice so that the council had plenty of time to consider options for my successor,” Avera told the Free Lance. He said the timing was to give the council time to thoroughly vet a new candidate.

“I felt like the more time I gave, the council had the opportunity to do a real recruitment and the council wouldn’t be in the position where they had to go with an interim,” Avera said in an interview.

If the process goes as planned, Avera said interviews with candidates would likely occur  in August, with an offer made in September. Avera hopes for just a few weeks with the new manager to make the necessary introductions. “I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I have a lot of time with a city manager, because i don’t want to taint or tarnish their beliefs or anything,” Avera said.

After working for the city for 25 years, Avera will be eligible for a portion of his pension. He will be turning 52 just before he retires. His retirement age to receive his full pension would have been 55.  Avera’s CalPERS pension is 2.5 percent monthly of the highest annual amount he was ever paid during his 25 years with the city.

In the first year of his contract Avera was to be paid $189,950, but in his second year he would have received a 2.5 percent increase, to $194,698.75. If Avera had stayed through his third year he would have received a 5 percent increase, to $204,433.68 annually.

During his tenure as city manager, Avera oversaw the sale of the vacant city-owned 400 block of San Benito Street. The sale was criticized by some, including Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, because the property was sold to Del Curto Brothers Development and the Community Foundation at $300,000 below the latest appraisal.

Avera also previously served with the city’s redevelopment program manager and as well as development services director.

“The time has come for a change. As such, I am providing this letter as my notice of my retirement as city manager,” Avera’s letter of resignation to the council read. “I am committed to providing the highest level of service until my last day. I am confident that the city council, with sufficient time, will select the most qualified candidate to be the next permanent city manager.”

Avera told the Free Lance that an outside agency would give the many options because of the connections they would have.

Velazquez told the Free Lance that he hoped to get an outside perspective into the city by first hiring a contracted city manager for six months, who would come into the city and evaluate the staff, resources and current status of the city. He emphasized an outside perspective that could organize Hollister’s financial planning.

“I’ve always said the same thing: My No. 1 concern is our financial security,” Velazquez told the Free Lance. “We’ve made some wrong decisions the past few years.”

Resendiz had similar concerns. He told the Free Lance he often felt Avera brought his personal political viewpoints to the job, Resendiz thought it would be best for the city to find a city manager that did not have deep ties to the city and staff.

“I’d like to see someone from the outside fresh perspective,” said Resendiz, “without having any kind of bias or ties to anything.”

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